Today I’m blogging at a local Starbucks. The iPad sits in its tiny dock stand and there’s plenty of room for the little keyboard. Looking at the setup in front of me, it looks like an experiment in Just How Much Computer Do You Really Need?
This is part of the genius of the iPad. Sitting here with a thin sheet of metal and plastic and a tiny keyboard. Could it be thinner? I don’t think it could be much thinner, no. Smaller? No, this screen size/aspect is big enough to see well, to watch a movie, but small enough that it still feels like a personal device, not a “piece of hardware.”
The iPad today looks to me not like a computer at all. It’s more like a window, a window I can look into that connects to every other part of the web, with all its assets, everywhere in the world. This window is 9″ x 7″ x infinity.
But I was there to use a couple of hours down time to do some serious research and writing, and the iPad responded well, as I hammered away for two hours. It’s responsive and easily hooks up to WiFi when it finds it. The iPad as a whole is by far the best, smoothest and most humane computing experience I’ve had in the 24 years I’ve had PCs.
But getting work done needs tools. I wanted to see if I could find tools like the ones that would be useful to any other writer or self-publisher. Here’s what I’ve found so far.
5 Apps for Self-Publishers
The App store, part of ITunes, is still light on heavy-duty applications, although games are becoming more plentiful. Here are apps I’ve been using every day and a quick note about each. The best of them make me foget I’m using the iPhone operating system. The others don’t let me forget it. Links are gathered at the bottom of the article.
This $9.95 app from Apple is one of the programs featured in the run-up to the iPad launch. It’s a version of the desktop word processor by the same name. The program is promoted as being a simplified word processor with access to advanced functions like template-driven page layout.
Pages is a capable word processor and there is little competition in the App store so far. I sometimes felt that Apple had gone a bit too far in simplifying the program, since I always feel inside a highly controlled environment. There are many quirky interface features to this program, starting with the opening screen, where you realize there is no traditional file listing, just a rotating gallery of images of your documents, and your file functions, limited though they are, are all accessed from this view.
Probably the most irritating part of Pages is Apple’s insistence on forcing users to employ their “simplified” and interactive interface. Although the iPad has no problem getting input from the keyboard while in an input mode, there is no access to any functions whatsoever from the keyboard. In practice this means you will be going back and forth constantly from the keyboard to tapping and stroking the screen.
Pages is adept at handling images, runarounds, and offers the full complement of iPad fonts. However, you will have to tap your way to a relatively obscure menu you might completely miss to find those fonts.
I wanted to like Pages, and I’ve been using it for all my word processing on the iPad, but it’s so dumbed down and inconvenient it’s hard to take it seriously as a platform for getting serious work done. In fact, Pages reinforces the opinion I expressed earlier: the iPad is a consummate platform for consuming content, crippled for producing content.
Atomic Web Browser
This $.99 App saved my sanity. One of the features of the iPhone operating system that runs the iPad is a lack of multitasking. We’ve gotten pretty used to multitasking and, like a lot of things, you only miss it when it’s gone.
Using the iPad without a browser like Atomic is painful, because when you close the window you are working in, you are closing the application completely. With Atomic, you gain a tabbed browser, which can open multiple windows at the same time.
I was writing a review of some software, and I could keep the website for the program in one window, and open the input screen for my WordPress blog in another window. You’ll see both tabs in this screenshot detail:
Atomic seems about as fast as the version of Safari that’s included on the iPad, but I’ve replaced it on the toolbar with Atomic. Do yourself a favor, spend the 99 cents, save your own sanity.
Goodreader, another great value at $.99, provides robust file handling, otherwise missing on the iPad. It’s as if Apple didn’t want iPad users to ever see a file list, because I couldn’t find one anywhere until I installed this program.
Goodreader can handle uploads directly from your PC via WiFi, or treat your Dropbox (see below) as a server. It will display a large number of file formats, and I’ve been using it for the many PDFs I have stored on the iPad. These include manuals, reports I’m reading, manuscripts and plenty of samples of book designs. The built-in viewer on iPad presents a lot of frustration in its interface and performance, and you’ll want a file viewer of some kind to deal with uploads, downloads and basic file management.
As you can see, the interface is easy to use and no-nonsense. It does it’s job and gets out of the way. Once you get used to the way Goodreader wants you to change pages, it’s pretty easy to use.
Dropbox and Evernote are the two cloud utilites I rely on. Dropbox installs a folder on your desktop that’s password protected. You can have public or private folders and create your own. Then, you simply set up the same account on another computer and presto! Instant file synchronization wirelessly, automatically, reliably. Clients drop corrected files into their folder, I get alerted that the files has arrived. I send the proofs the same way.
Evernote, another cloud-enabled app, shows how close we’re getting to the ultimate “throw anything at it” utility for storing, sorting, finding input of all types. Kind of a magic junk drawer that knows where everything is. You can clip screenshots from the browser bar and save them as notes, store audio files, web pages, videos, just about anything. Fully enabled for tagging, you can also find things pretty easily. And the real beauty of Evernote is the seamless automatic syncing between the iPad and iPhone versions and the one on your desktop. I’ve never found anything better for quick research and retreival.
There you have it. About two weeks in, and the iPad has made a place for itself in my work life. Apple has positioned the iPad as a satellite or adjunct to your regular computer, where you are likely to have more storage and a fixed network connection. The compromises between the roles the iPad plays as computer, and as computer appliance, are fascinating. As the platform matures, I wonder if those roles will go in different directions, or whether the lines will start to blur.
And of course, if the Facebook for iPad app appears, I can imagine a lot of units flying out of the Apple stores around the world.
Some readers have iPads. What great apps have you found? Are you using it more than you thought you would?